Travel companies need to better communicate to staff and customers how they deal with animal welfare issues.
That was the message from Animondial at the Abta Animal Welfare in Tourism Training conference in London, which urged delegates to explain their decisions to consumers.
Helen Usher, director of Animondial, a consultancy that advises Abta on animal issues, said simply removing animal attractions from programmes was not the answer.
She gave the example of an operator that refused to sell elephant treks but had not communicated the reasons why to staff or public.
“Customers will go elsewhere and still do it because they don’t know why it’s a problem,” Usher said.
She added: “Recognise that the customer is not always right. They aren’t, because they are not always informed. Until you tell them they shouldn’t go elephant trekking, they don’t realise.”
Usher said there was a definite “shift in the market”. “I feel we now need to promote conservation efforts instead.
I always think of a family and child that want to see an elephant for the first time. They do not see it in its natural environment; they see it chained, depressed, with sores around its feet.”
She added: “It’s about offering a wonderful alternative, like seeing elephants in their natural environment.”
Animondial co-director Daniel Turner said the industry, rather than local convention, was mostly to blame for attractions that abused animals.
“Most have been created as part of providing an entertainment for a day or week. They don’t come from cultural practices. That’s why the travel industry in particular is an important component to this issue. You could say the industry has proliferated this.”
But he admitted: “For most captive animals, you can’t literally open the door because they will not survive in the wild.”
Animondial recommends a basic audit to ensure animal attractions conform to its Five Freedoms: access to water and appropriate, nutritious food; a suitable environment; good health and the ability to express natural behaviour; and the ability to escape fear and distress.
“Start with a basic understanding that animals are sentient. They experience pain, suffering and distress,” Turner added.